The Origins of Original Sin

I’m now caught up on Horizon again. Yesterday’s episode was titled “Are You Good or Evil?” and looked at the psychology, neurology and genetics of evil. Here are a few highlights.

Contrary to what Christianity teaches, it seems that most children are born with an innate sense of empathy and morality. (I’m a bit dubious about this one, for the same reasons I’m dubious about psychological tests of gendered behaviour.)

There are clear diagnostic brain patterns that are indicative of psychopathic behaviour. Put someone under an MRI scanner and you can tell if they are a potential psychopath.

Psychopathic behaviour is also linked to a particular gene. Having the diagnostic brain pattern and the “warrior gene” is very bad news.

Even so, a happy childhood and moral upbringing can make a decent human out of someone with all of these diagnostic indicators. An abusive childhood coupled with the diagnostic indicators is likely to create a very dangerous individual. (Radical feminists please note: we have both nature and nurture at work here.)

Well adjusted psychopaths can find other outlets for their antisocial tendencies. The proportion of people with the diagnostic indicators is four times higher in the senior management of big corporations than it is in the general population as a whole.

It’s a shame that the programme couldn’t find anyone who had tested politicians. Psychopaths are characterized by a great deal of charisma and lack of moral compass, which sounds to me like an ideal combination for politics.

If you write horror fiction, I think you’ll get a lot of food for thought from this programme.

2 thoughts on “The Origins of Original Sin

  1. “Contrary to what Christianity teaches, it seems that most children are born with an innate sense of empathy and morality.”

    I’d be interested to see a reference from Christian scripture to the effect that children are not born with empathy. (Being born with innate morality would imply that there is an absolute morality independent of cultural norms, and while that idea doesn’t necessarily bother me–as long as the absolute morality is the same as mine, of course–I know an awful lot of people whom it would bother.)

    Original sin, as Christianity teaches it, does not, as far as I know, exclude compassion or empathy: all it signifies, again as far as I know, is that humanity possesses the knowledge of good and evil and thus the capacity to choose to do evil, a historically demonstrable fact. (There’s also the whole disobeying-God “the-woman-tempted-me-ossifer” bit, but that’s not relevant to the point about children’s innate qualities as far as I can see.)

    1. As I understand it (and I’m happy to be corrected), Original Sin means that all human beings are sinful at birth. They can only escape from that condition by becoming Christians (by which they accept their sinfulness and that Christ died for their sins).

      Quite what that means in terms of assumptions of morality and whether one is a “good person” is, as you astutely point out, culturally determined, and that includes different versions of Christianity. Some of them are very reasonable, and some of them are Calvinists.

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